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The wonderful new sketchbook capturing the Northern Quarter’s unique essence

Local artist Len Grant takes on the Northern Quarter in his latest sketchbook
Len Grant

If you’re a fan of the Northern Quarter with its colourful characters, amazingly dressed people, rich selection of bars, restaurants and music venues, you may have seen Len Grant.

For the last couple of years, the Manchester artist has been sketching his way around the area.

His new sketchbook is a snapshot of the people and places that make the city great.

Len Grant’s Northern Quarter

Len Grant

Len shared his journey, tracing back over 30 years of creative exploration, from his roots as a photographer documenting Manchester’s regeneration to his new found passion for sketching.

The evolution from capturing moments with a camera to immortalising them with a pencil reveals the depth of Len’s connection to the city and its changing landscape.

Bars and Barbers

His new book is called Bars and Barbers: Sketches from the Northern Quarter because there are lots of both, he says – but it will also feature numerous street views as well as the music and art scene.

“The Northern Quarter is arguably the city’s trendiest neighbourhood,” says Len. “There’s always something going on. I’ve really enjoyed tipping up every week or so, sitting on my little stool, drawing whatever unfolds.”

Many of his sketches are complemented by little stories – snippets of banter with passersby or snatches of overheard conversations.

Sketches from the Northern Quarter

Through his sketches and accompanying tales, Len brings to life the characters and quirks that define the Northern Quarter.

Here’s one, for example, that accompanies the above sketch:

Two older women and their shopping bags wander by. “My two daughters are really good at art,” says one, looking down at my half-finished sketch. “Myself, I do fluid art.”

“Do you have to be drunk to do that?” I ask. I’m not sure they get it.

Moments later he practically bolts out of Kabana’s front door, his phone up to his ear. “This is my first proper day out,” he shouts. “I’m sore but I’m not that sore.” And then: “I’ve never seen blood like it.”

He’s now pacing up and down the side street in his bright green and yellow trainers, oblivious, it seems, of me.  Another phone rings. He pulls it out of a pocket and up to the other ear. “Hiya Peter,” he says even more loudly. “I’ll give you a ring back in 10.”

And then to the first caller: “It was a rough ride, a real rough ride.”

Here’s another sketch from the book:

There’s a gaggle of drinkers outside The Millstone, as if the force of the karaoke singer has pushed them all out onto the pavement to have a smoke. Most are wearing something emerald green… it’s St. Patrick’s Day.

Love is in the air, Everywhere I look around…

A local woman, walking her dog, stops to chat to one of the older drinkers resplendent in his best blue suit, crisp white shirt stretched tight over his beer belly.

“St George’s Day, that’s our day,” she says loudly. “But all the best for your day.” She yanks the red lead, “Come on, love.” The dog walks a few feet before cocking its leg outside the entrance to Oi Polloi. 

Ten minutes later she’s back. The small dog has been replaced by a shopping trolley. This time she’s waving her arms at a woman in a purple jumper smoking a fag. The latest singer drowns out their exchange.

You can’t hide your lying eyes, And your smile is a thin disguise…

The two have words and she storms off, trolley in tow.

Len has documented many of the Northern Quarter’s institutions including Night and Day, Piccadilly Records, Afflecks Palace, Matt and Phred’s, This & That, and Band on the Wall.

” I hope that for those unfamiliar it provides an insight into what makes this area unique in the city. There’s nothing quite like it.

“I could have written even more books on the Northern Quarter and might do so if this one succeeds as there’s so much happening there that I couldn’t include.

“This book captures my experiences of exploring the area, often on Saturday afternoons, setting up my drawing equipment and capturing what I see unfolding before me.”

Unique and quirky

Len Grant
Night and Day

“I’m hoping those who know and love the Northern Quarter will pre-order a copy”, says Len, “so I can make the book a reality.

“I believe I’ve created a unique and quirky portrayal of what could be considered Manchester’s most vibrant and unconventional neighbourhood.

“It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, or maybe not quite, but idiosyncratic. This area is known for being trendy and eccentric. It’s definitely ‘out there’. It’s a wonderful place and makes Manchester what it is.”

This is Len’s third published sketchbook.

In 2018 he published The Rusholme Sketcher after a year-long blog of the same name. In 2022 he published The Burton Road Sketchbook. Both have sold out.

Len has launched a crowdfunding campaign to get a 96-page book of his A5 sketches printed. If you’d like to contribute to help this gorgeous book become a reality, please click here.

If the campaign is successful, Bars and Barbers will be printed over the summer and published in the autumn.

You can find out more about Len on his website by clicking here.

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